An Interview with Dafna Naphtali

Interviewing Dafna Naphtali was especially exciting for me. Sure, it could be because she’s one of the few women involved with Max since its earliest days. But I’m especially interested because she’s a vocalist, composing beautiful vocal music amidst an electronic world. A lovely break from straight synthesis, her work is a mix of organic source and digital processing.  I believe that her fantastic input during her collaboration with Eric Singer’s Lemur Robots really added life to what could have been a very sterile piece.  She’s also an inspiring teacher and has some interesting approaches to teaching Max.

Can you describe your work to me?

I have a very eclectic music background. I’ve been performing since I was a teenager, all different kinds of music. I was very interested in Near-Eastern and Greek music because of my cultural background.

The majority of what I’ve been doing for the last 15 years with Max, has been live sound processing in an improvised music context. I’m a vocalist, so I process my own voice as well as processing other people that I play with.

Branching out from there I composed some chamber works. I found that in each piece I ended up adding some processing. I wrote something for Disklavier (for Kathleen Supové), and I have an early flute piece of mine that I’m reworking to make it more of a Max piece. But I think I even used Max to generate the tape part back I was in grad school.

More recently I wrote music for Eric Singer’s LEMUR Robots. I controlled the GuitarBot and percussion ModBots and live sound processing using Wii controllers and my voice, and using various rhythmic algorithms, and Morse code. I used texts created by online poetry robots. It was a lot of fun to work on.

I often have big aspirations for my projects, but the only big ideas that end up being realized are the ones for which I’m lucky enough to find some funding. For example — I’d been working with for a couple of years with a vocal group (Magic Names) that sings Stimmung by Stockhausen, (as singer only). I found it beautiful how really this vocal piece was so like his electronic music in the way it is constructed and even sounds. As my response to Stimmung, I proposed to the American Composer’s Forum to write a piece for six voices and live electronics. There’s a lot of wonderful vocal music out there, obviously, but nothing combined with electronics and live sound processing in the way I wanted to do it.

We premiered the piece, “Panda Half-Life” a year ago and recorded it this past April. It’s me plus the five other singers in Magic Names, each of us going into my Max patch where everybody gets processed or looped in real-time, using gestural controllers (Wiis and iPhone – I ran the whole piece using the c74 app!) It’s a work in progress, and has evolved a bit since the premiere. The next thing to do is to work more on the electronics to make them sound better and run more efficiently.

View the full-sized screen shot.

The sung parts are about the Tower of Babel, and draw on Balkan music electro-acoustic music, sound poetry, liturgical chants, even early tape constructions (Hugh La Caine’s Dripsody reflected in a section called “Dripsodisiac”). Like many of my pieces there is a Middle Eastern influence — because that’s usually what just comes naturally out of out of my mouth. But I also came from a jazz background, which I find influences all of the music I write as well.

A lot of my music has improvised and aleatoric elements [chance, Latin = ‘dice’.] My project What is it Like to be a Bat? (a “digital punk” trio with Kitty Brazelton), combined rigorous contemporary classically scored music with a punk noise fest, unpredictable sections and my craziest Max patches to rhythmically manipulate feedback and live processed sound (hands free — I played electric guitar and sang). Another project is my duo with Chuck Bettis (a hyper-creative Max programmer/performer who processes his voice). The CD Chatter Blip is an “interstellar multi-character audio operetta using a multitude of human, alien, and machine voices, and a mash-up of primal and classic sci-fi and electro-acoustics…..” it’s pretty wild, and we started experimenting controlling Jitter using our voices and Wiis.

Školská 28 Prague

An Interview with Dafna Naphtali

Dec 26, 2011 at 5:30pm

Fascinating interview, and an amazing video! Great work! As a beginner to Max I appreciate the advice about how to learn it and agree on using your own project needs to drive the learning. Thank you for posting this.


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